Over the past 20 years as a professional photographer, I’ve been asked the same question over and over again:
What is the best camera?
The answer is always the same: It’s the camera you have with you.
It may sound simple, but you can’t make an image without a camera.
Iconic images have been made by people who simply carried their own day-to-day cameras. Remember the tragic image of the Air France Flight 4590 Concorde that caught fire in July 2000? Or the image of the firefighter during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing? Both were shot by some guy with a camera, not a “professional” photographer.
Which camera is right for you?
This is a question that I answer regularly for friends, family and clients, and it always comes down to a few key thin:
What kind of things do you like to photograph?
How much equipment do you want to carry?
And, of course, What is your budget?
Pointers to keep in mind when buying cameras
What you like to photograph will have a big effect on your camera choice. If you are one who just shoots party pics, daylight images of your kids in the park, a prize-winning catch, or your orchids to email to New York relatives, I suggest any point-and-shoot consumer camera that is 8 megapixels or higher. Point and shoot cameras are defined by the small size, and it comes with a lens that can not be removed and automatic features like exposure and autofocus. Most have image stabilization, the ability to shoot a better image in a light challenged conditions. Some higher-end-point-and-shoots have the ability to be turned into a manual mode.
Some of these cameras are just a bit larger than credit cards, but can shoot nice daylight images; they start to struggle when light (or the lack of it) is an issue.
I recently bought my bride a Canon Powershot SD780 (retails for under $300), and it was perfect for our vacation in Puerto Rico. She uses it regularly to document the lives of our two little girls.
But, when it comes to taking pictures of these two little girls on the soccer field, a beefier camera is required.
Enter the DSLR – digital single-lens reflex, basically, a digital version of the film camera we all carried in college. The cameras nowadays have a series of automatic features, the same found on point-and-shoot cameras, as well as the ability to change lenses. DSLR cameras have been packaged with one or two lenses, with prices starting as little as $600. Some brand name DSLR cameras can work with older lenses that you may already own. Nikon, for example, has never changed their lens mounting system, thus a lens from the ‘60s will fit on a digital camera body of today.(Although most automatic features will not work when vintage is mixed with new.)
The DSLR is a favorite for light travel; being able to change lenses, zoom into something and compose a scene makes the DSLR the camera of choice.
I recommend purchasing a pre-packaged system supplied by the big names in digital cameras. Both Nikon and Canon offer consumers great starting packages hat bundle a camera lens.
Then, of course, there are the professional-grade cameras and lenses, which are very durable, very heavy and very expensive. One of the biggest advantages to a pro-series camera is the “lag-time”, the time in between pushing the button and capturing the image. On a point and shoot, this could be a second or two, enough to make me crazy. However, when you buy a camera marketed to the professional, the lag time is unnoticeable.
Professional lenses will cost substantially more. Glass lenses are generally better and more expensive than their plastic counterparts. Professional lenses have bigger apertures that allows the photographer to let more light in the camera. For example hen shooting without a tripod or flash on hand in a darker situation-such as inside a high school gym or church-the larger apertures make up for the lack of light.
I occasionally shoot high school basketball for the local paper and it would be impossible with out the professional-grade lenses. I document more than a dozen weddings a year, and am always, always up against lighting challenges, so owning the expensive lenses allows me to make images that would otherwise be impossible, such as shots lit by candlelight in a dark church, for example.
Having the right tools for the job-whether it’s wedding photography, shots of the kids on a Saturday, or party pictures to update your Facebook, Keeps everybody smiling without having to say, “Cheese!”